Issue 21 | April/May 2017

I'm a weekend barista in our household—and something of a legend among visitors. Hazelnut or vanilla lattes are the house specialty.

Shhh, don't tell anyone... my reputation owes far more to Torani syrup than to my ability to brew espresso or steam milk. Torani invented the flavored latte category. So imagine my delight to meet CEO Melanie Dulbecco and hear the backstory of the amazing 90-year-old company she leads.

In 2009, Torani faced daunting challenges: the economic crisis, a precipitous drop in consumer spending, a mature market, and (most troubling) new multinational competitors intent on buying market with cheaper (IMHO, inferior) products. Considering the circumstances, achieving 4% growth would have been a huge success. But by harnessing the principles of customer advocacy (Melanie prefers terms such as listening, collaboration, and innovation), the company catapulted to double-digit growth.

Next time you're enjoying your favorite flavored latte, say a thanks for the transformative power of customer advocacy.

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland


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If you do a search for customer advocacy, you'll find many different definitions. But they all tend to fall into one of two general categories.

One is an internal perspective: focusing the organization on what's best for customers, creating great customer experiences, advocating for them, and helping them resolve problems. This is the prevailing view in customer service and operations circles.

The other is an external perspective: defining customer advocacy in terms of customers who advocate for us, spreading the word about our products, services and brand. This perspective is common among those in marketing and sales.

So, which of the two is correct? Actually, both! Both are essential and closely related—they are two sides of the same coin. You won't have customers who promote your products and brand without identifying and meeting their needs, helping them solve problems, and focusing on what is best for them.

So, I define customer advocacy this way:

Customer advocacy consists of the actions we take to focus the organization on doing what is best for customers, which, in turn, rewards us with loyal customers who advocate for our products and brand.

Customer Advocacy

Customer advocacy consists of the actions we take to focus the organization on doing what is best for customers, which, in turn, rewards us with loyal customers who advocate for our products and brand.

Customer advocacy can play out in small and big ways:

It can help guide individual interactions. The reservation agent mentions to the customer that, if they'd prefer, the earlier flight would save $200.

It can be the catalyst to more involved decisions, such as keeping a customer service department open on weekends to match customer preferences.

And it can be the driver of dramatic change. (Here are a few examples: Charles Schwab, Torani, Chick-fil-A.) When the late Steve Jobs returned to Apple and turned the company around, he eliminated some products the company had invested heavily in, and focused on others that were aligned with customer needs. He said, "You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology—not the other way around." That is customer advocacy at work.

Brad with Torani CEO Melanie Dulbecco  

I sometimes get the question: how do customer experience, voice of the customer, and customer advocacy differ from each other? Don't they really mean the same thing? The answer is no—but they work together.

Customer experience refers to all of the experiences customers have with your organization, including products, services, processes, policies, the expectations you set, and other factors. It's the big picture, and is often called the end-to-end customer journey.

Voice of the customer (VOC) is the process of capturing input on what they experience, and seeking to understand their needs, wants and perceptions. It provides vital information you need to understand customers.

Customer advocacy is about taking action. It's informed by voice of the customer and refers to the tangible actions you take to solve problems for customers and improve their experiences. Ideally, customer advocacy extends across the entire customer journey, from the first touchpoint and setting expectations, to problem solving after the sale.

My encouragement is to NOT view customer advocacy as a project of its own. Instead, see how it can become an inherent and essential part of product development, marketing, customer service, and other activities that you already have in motion.

Customer advocacy is the ingredient in the recipe that enables you to focus on what's best for customers and earn their loyalty, and then to enjoy the benefits of them advocating for your brand.

Recent Issues

  • 1% to 5%. Typical percent of customers who complain to companies when there are problems—for every 10 complaints, there are anywhere from 200 to 1,000 customers you don't hear from. (John Goodman, Customer Experience 3.0)
  • Word of mouth drives 2050% of all purchase decisions. (McKinsey)
  • Advocate customers spend 2 times more than regular customers, and because they stay longer, have a customer lifetime value 5 times greater than regular customers. (Bain & Company)

Follow this link to an infographic that illustrates "The Hierarchy of Advocate Needs" (Dylan Foster, Advocate Marketing Blog). This is one way to differentiate between levels of customer advocates.

Next, create a pyramid that reflects ways your organization can engage with your customers who are advocates. (Suggestion: start simple! For example, begin with two layers, representing newer or passive advocates and long-time or active advocates. Add more nuanced layers as your organization can manage them.)

New online course to be released, May 2017, "Customer Advocacy"

Brad recently presented at TEDxSunValley, on "Thriving in an Always-On World"

Recent radio interview, "Be There for Your Customers"

Public workshop opportunity with Brad: Orlando Florida, ICMI Conference, May 22-24, 2017.

See the frequently updated statistics page at www.bradcleveland.com, with sections on customer expectations, contact centers, and social/mobile/tech.

*Brad delivers private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact info@bradcleveland.com.

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

© 2017 Brad Cleveland   All Rights Reserved